WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used a ceremonial swearing of Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Monday to apologize for the "pain and suffering" the president said his family had endured during his Senate confirmation.
"You, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent," Trump said during an East Room ceremony honoring Kavanaugh.
Without directly mentioning the allegations of sexual assault that stalled Kavanaugh's confirmation for weeks, Trump said he thought his second nominee to the Supreme Court deserved better than the "campaign of political and personal" attacks the president said he faced.
Having endured a trial by fire for three months as Trump's very controversial nominee, the 53-year-old Supreme Court justice won't have as much trouble blending in to what he has termed the "team of nine" Tuesday morning.
Kavanaugh will be on the bench for the second week of the court's 2018 term, having missed six oral arguments. His appearance follows a whirlwind weekend in which he was confirmed by the Senate, sworn in, hired law clerks and assembled his high court chambers.
The nomination process began with disputes over Kavanaugh's long paper trail from his years in President George W. Bush's White House, much of which was withheld from the senators considering his confirmation. It ended with fireworks over sensational allegations of sexual assault as a high school teenager, which he denied and which were never corroborated but nearly sank his chances for a lifetime appointment.
Kavanaugh went straight to work Sunday after the Senate's 50-48 confirmation vote Saturday afternoon, one of the narrowest in history. He inherited Associate Justice Samuel Alito's chambers after Alito switched into retired associate justice Anthony Kennedy's old digs.
Kavanaugh kept to his word by bringing with him the high court's first all-female group of law clerks. One of his major efforts over 12 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had been to mentor and promote female clerks. His new team includes Kim Jackson, Sara Nommensen, Shannon Grammel and Megan Lacy.
Although Kavanaugh was sworn in privately Saturday evening by Chief Justice John Roberts and Kennedy, for whom he clerked 25 years ago, the White House planned a public ceremony Monday night in the East Room of the White House.
Then it will be on to the bench Tuesday morning, where he will be introduced by Roberts before the full court hears two criminal law cases regarding the proper penalties for gun crimes. Wednesday, the justices will consider a more controversial case concerning the government's ability to detain undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation hearings, as well as another on asbestos exposure.
Though more eyes may be on Kavanaugh, Roberts may be the most important justice after the retirement of Kennedy, the court's swing vote. Kavanaugh is likely to align with the court's more conservative justices, making Roberts the most likely to join the court's four liberals on occasion.
“He won’t be as liberal in some dimension as Kennedy, but he’ll be more of an incrementalist,” said Harvard Law School professor Richard Lazarus, a Roberts classmate there in the 1970s.
Incrementalism may be the best antidote for a court that could be viewed as more partisan, given Kavanaugh's heated testimony at last month's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegation. Kavanaugh complained of a "calculated and orchestrated political hit" by Democrats and "left-wing opposition groups" he said were out to torpedo his nomination.
“It hasn’t been a good month for the court," said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor. "We should all – Republicans, Democrats – be invested in the project of trying to restore the notion not that the court is above politics, but that it’s more than just another lever of partisan power.”